Monday, June 30, 2008

New Release Hat Trick

Three of my favorite authors have releases scheduled for tomorrow:

Christina Dodd: Into the Shadow
Lynn Viehl, Twilight Fall
Joanna Bourne, My Lord and Spymaster.*

Think about a trip to your local bookstore tomorrow.

__________
*I found this one yesterday

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Your Scandalous Ways, by Loretta Chase

This isn’t exactly a review. Pretty much all the things I’ve raved about with respect to Loretta Chase hold true with this book too, so I’m just going to amuse myself and hopefully some of you with a handful of short snips that are too good to only see once:

*p. 41

”I am content to go where you go, beautiful ones. I am the courtesan like you. You will allure the men and I will allure the women.”

“A courtesan is a woman,” said Giulietta.

“What is the word then?” he asked. “My English speaking, better than my Italian speaking, but still of no perfection.”

Giulietta looked at her friend.

“The man prostitute,” he prompted, “who costs very much. What is his name in English?”

“Husband,” said Bonnard.


*p 254:

James watched her go. “That went well, I thought.”

“Yes sir,” said Sedgewick.

“Signore, it is nothing,” said Zeggio. “Women, they always say they will cut off the balls. It is like when the man say, ‘Tomorrow, I will respect you still.’ It means nothing.”


*p 342

Magny looked at the door through which she’d dramatically exited. “Are you not going to chase her, fall to your knees, vow undying devotion and the rest of that revolting nonsense?”

“No.”

“Well then, would you like a drink?”

“Yes. Yes, thank you, I would.”


Are you in love yet?

.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the Suspension of Disbelief

Let’s face it, the notion of immortal undead bloodsuckers living among us has some flaws.

First of all, if they are immortal, and we are not…. Shouldn’t they eventually outnumber us?

Secondly, if they are immortal, and they turn humans into immortal vampires… Shouldn’t they eventually outnumber us?

Thirdly, if they have superhuman strength, can fly or teleport, etc – basically, if they’re nearly inescapable deadly predators—plus immortal, plus turning…. Shouldn’t they eventually outnumber us?

It’s your basic lion-and-gazelle sort of question.

And beyond just the population balance question, don’t you think if they’d been around for THOUSANDS of years, they’d’ve made it beyond fairy-tale status? I mean, if they were real? Wouldn’t they eventually be sort of… noticeable?

I have to admit, Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood universe is one of the most immersive, plausible fantasy worlds I’ve come across in a really long time. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes that true. How can some authors take the same premise and turn it into a world that seems so real, that resonates so hard in my head that I have difficulty believing that it only exist between the pages of a book? While others might provide a good read, but when I close the cover, my brain is right back to grocery lists and emails for work and the stuff I need to pick up for my daughter’s science project and the film I need to drop off at Target to get my mother-in-law off my back… And then there’s the other end of the spectrum that just induce eye-rolling. So, as I'm prone to do, I started thinking about this way too much. Which led me to…

To: O’Donovan
From: Nicola
Subject: I am such a dork.

See spreadsheet.

<<Vampire Credibility Index.xls >>

To: Nicola
From: O’Donovan
Subject: Re: I am such a dork.

I fucking adore your brain.

We should add Laurell K. Hamilton (whose total would be 0) and there are a couple of others. If one wanted to add a "quality of writing" category, I think the numbers would change dramatically.

To: O’Donovan
From: Nicola
Subject: Re: Re: I am such a dork.


<g>

Thought you might like that.

Totally agree on the quality of writing, but I thought it might be too subjective.

I’m also trying to figure out how to capture the mind control/thrall aspect; that seems to be a common element in most of the vamp books. Not binary, though.

What other questions belong on the grid?


To: Nicola
From: O’Donovan
Subject: Re: Re: Re: I am such a dork.

Maybe whether vampires are portrayed as dangerous predators, disinterested observers, or benevolent protectors? We should add Kelley Armstong, too. I can't abide Feehan or Kenyon, but I can fill in the Hamilton gaps.


To: O’Donovan
From: Nicola
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: I am such a dork.


Check. The other thing I was thinking was the origin of the species, but that will come down the eye of the beholder. I just finished the first Lara Adrian and apparently the entire vamp population came from 8 aliens who were responsible for several of the earth's mysterious population wipes -- Egypt, Maya, etc. I liked the book, but totally don’t buy that.

Apparently aliens trip my "Oh please, you must be kidding" trigger while incandescent demigods do not.

------------<<end of email string >> ---------------

OK, we resolved the origin of the species question, and here is the sublimely dorky result:




Is that not a thing of beauty? The normalized line accounts for the fact that some authors had been read by both of us and some had not (I have taken masters' level courses in statistics, thank you very much).

The funny thing is, these scores are not at ALL about how much I (or we, if I may speak for O'Donovan) enjoyed the books. But it does a fair job of ranking how believable the universe is.

Strangely enough, sometimes vagueness is your friend in world building. I have no idea how Susan Sizemore's vampire race came into being. And it doesn't seem to matter. Lara Adrian, on the other hand, writes a far more nuanced world, with better characters and more complex plot, but when she starts talking about crash-landing aliens, it's a total bucket of cold water. For me, anyway.

And I adored the Kresley Cole series (totally recommend, review on its way) BUT I don't believe in her Lore universe for a second--it's just fun. Ward on the other hand... catches me looking for Caldwell, NY on a map and speculating, speculating, speculating...

_______________
Final note: I'd be happy to justify any and all of the rankings if you have any disputes, but rest assured that EACH AND EVERY ONE represents an explicit thought process and far more brain cells than could possibly be justified.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nightkeepers, by Jessica Andersen – Review

“It’s a small world… but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.” –Steven Wright.

Jessica Andersen (Doc Jess, to us slightly smug insiders) and JR Ward are critique partners and share an editor. Nightkeepers also shared its release date with Lover Enshrined. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t become something of a zombie fangirl over at JR Ward’s message boards. I also wouldn’t have found her very impressive website. I’m sure I wouldn’t have found her book, since Borders’ only had one lone copy tucked back in the “A”s on its release day (I talked them into bringing a stack out for the New Fiction table, like a good zombie).

So once the buzz from Lover Enshrined faded a little, I dove into Nightkeepers. The premise is a little out there, but no more so than most of the paranormal stuff I’ve been reading lately. The mythology is a lot less familiar – I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad. I do enjoy the “in joke” when I get the references; then again, maybe my horizons just need to be broadened.

If you weren’t looking for similarities to Ward’s books, you probably wouldn’t notice any. Some of the smart-ass humor rings familiar bells, and Anderson’s books are longer than the typical contemporary, though not as chunky as Ward’s. The pacing and action scenes might feel a little similar in rhythm, but make no mistake, these are unique stories and unique characters.

I’d like to give it an unconditional “HELL YEAH, if you like JR Ward, you’ll love Doc Jess”. However… it’s a little more conditional than that. My tepid response here might be my own fault though, so I’ll tell you what happened and let you be the judge.

I started reading on Wednesday evening. It was a busy week though, and I didn’t get a lot of time to read. Thursday I spent the majority of the evening getting packed for a campout with a troop of first-timer Brownie Girl Scouts. Once I had that situation under control, I settled down for a session with Nightkeepers.

It *really* sucked me in. The world-building is expertly done; its internal rules laid out smoothly and consistently without falling into a lecture-y sandtrap. The hero will get your pulse going (gotta love an Alpha named “Strike”); the heroine is likeable and has believable reactions to unbelievable situations. The bad guys rate very high on the oh-shit-creepy scale. Great sexual tension and nicely executed erotic scenes. I blazed through about 9/10s of the book.

But then I got sleepy. I couldn’t finish it, with maybe 30 or 40 pages to go. And I had that frickincampout the following weekend. I took the book with me to work on Friday, but didn’t get a chance to read it at lunch, and had ZERO time to sneak in any reading that evening, since the intrepid Brownie troop departed from my house shortly after I got home from work. In short, I lost momentum.

It was a busy weekend, what with the knot-tying and hiking and s’mores and homesick seven-year-olds. Still, I found my thoughts on Nightkeepers every now and then, wishing I had finished it and looking forward to getting back to it.

And sadly, I was disappointed in the end. The Big Giant Climactic Scene just… didn’t do it for me. My suspended disbelief hit the ground with a thunk (maybe I used the wrong knot). Maybe it was a little too woo-woo (that’s the technical literary term, I believe); or the specific use of magic in that scene wasn’t set up well enough for me.

But I really wish I had finished it before that campout. Because I think that the literatus-interruptus* was the main factor in my dissatisfaction. So my rec? Check out the webpage and the excerpts. If you’re intrigued, definitely pick it up. Just don’t stop in the wrong place for three days.

________________________

*I made that up.
.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Review: Lover Enshrined by J.R. Ward

Prologue

Nicola: I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite this obsessed with an author or series. Well, unless maybe if you count Nancy Drew in fourth grade. But even then, I wasn’t treating a new book like a rock concert, waiting in line for tickets at 3 am on opening day.

Well, OK, I didn’t get in line at 3 am. And I even managed enough strength of character not to go to work late so as to nab the book at 9 am when the store opened. I waited until 6 pm – NINE HOURS LATER – to read it after work. (I did however completely neglect my children, my husband and my house, and I had an asiago pretzel for dinner in the bookstore café.)

JR Ward writes long books. I promised myself that I would pace myself, that I wouldn’t blaze through it, that I would savor it and pick up on all the juicy little tidbits that are strewn through all the books like easter eggs in a video game.

I finished it at 1:30 am the same night I started it.

Sigh. I am weak.

O’Donovan: There is nothing quite as much fun as anticipating a book with a friend, then devouring it while getting your friend’s commentary (and, in Nicola’s case, I got her urgings to hurry the hell up so we could talk about it already). Actual e-mails we exchanged on Tuesday, when I bought it:

From: O’Donovan
To: Nicola
Subject: Re: Annoying co-blogger again


Just cracked Lover Enshrined and I’m already going, “oh, maaaan” over the glossary. I wish it didn’t drive me so crazy. Ok, on to the good stuff.

From: O’Donovan
To: Nicola
Subject: Oh, no

Ok, I just got to the definition of “phearsom” and I actually let out an anguished cry.

From: Nicola
To: O’Donovan
Subject: Re: Oh, no

Heeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheehee

Stop reading the glossary, OK? You’re just torturing yourself


Actual post and review

O’Donovan: “Alpha hero, my ass.”

If I had to give you a four-word review of Lover Enshrined, that’s what you’d get. If I got the more-traditional-in-Internet-terms six words, I think we’d be looking at:

“Phury? Meh. Cormia? OK. What’s next?”

Nicola and I are united in our overwhelming … excuse me, wait. I can’t even use “overwhelming” in an ironic way to describe the romance portion of this book. I was under- everything, except –excited. I was definitely overexcited about the next JR Ward book, but I’m putting my excitement on ice until we get over this awkward stage. Growing pains, you know.

Nicola: I have to say, Phury has always been my least favorite Brother--which is a little like saying that he’s my least favorite 5 carat diamond, but anyway. I was willing to give this book the chance to change my mind… but it didn’t.

O’Donovan: Ward has a funny little tic that I love: She dedicates her book to the hero, and writes a personal note from author to character. In the note for Lover Enshrined, she tells Phury he’s a gentleman.

As those of use who love (or have loved) bad boys know, that’s officially the kiss of death.

On paper, of course, Phury looks like an interesting proposition. He’s a drug addict (and that’s worked in romance novels before; see Eloisa James’ The Taming of the Duke). He’s a twin (ditto). He’s painfully, pathetically, tragically in love with his brother’s faithful and loving wife. (I know I’ve seen this in a romance novel before, but I can’t think where.) He’s just been given the key to a heavenly harem, with the catch that his chief concubine is an extremely reluctant political tool. He’s a fricking vampire warrior.

So where did it all break down?

I think the simple fact is, Phury is tough to like. He’s a Boy Scout, and not in a good way. He’s like a Boy Scout who really needs therapy and also some better written sex scenes, who needs to embrace his dark side through something besides passive-aggressive agonizing, corpse mutilation and drug abuse. Preferably — this is a romance novel, after all — something sexier than all of those, but still a little twisted, a little dark, a little opposite of the Boy Scout.

Instead, we get very little resolution and a whole lot of “and then he got over it and they moved on to the next thing” solutions, which are something I particularly despise in romance novels.

And Cormia. I had hopes. In fact, she had some cool, half-developed stuff going for her (like building elaborate architectural models out of peas and toothpicks, as if she were some kind of weird POW whose only outlet is training rats in the Brotherhood’s mansion). But Cormia, like Phury, never amounts to much in this book, although it looks for a couple of seconds like she and the young John Matthew might develop a bit of a thing. Alas, nope.

Nicola: If Cormia were a secondary character, her development would be stellar. I like the arc. But I felt like I just didn’t see enough of it, or enough of her and Phury dealing with each other.

O’Donovan: Yeah, that’s it, precisely. Also, I have to say that I am a sucker for the crazy, weird marking scenes in all of the other books, and that never really happened here, which was another thing that made this book feel like it fell outside of rest of the series. But the biggest sin was that the brotherhood barely makes its presence felt in this book.

Nicola: Agreed! I really, really missed seeing the banter and the relationships between the Brothers. This is hands-down my favorite thing about the series (though the erotic tension is right up there on the list), and it was very noticeably absent in Phury’s book. The rest of the Brothers were far distant bit players in this story which was mightily disappointing to me.

However… it’s no spoiler to tell you that Phury’s story is one of overcoming addiction. I can claim no expertise at all in this matter, but common wisdom is that this is a solo journey – a process that has to come from within, that no one can help you with. I don’t usually get this deep in my reviews, but I could absolutely see that the isolation that the reader feels in this book could be an artistic choice to echo the isolation of addiction and recovery. (Full disclosure: I didn’t get that all by myself. It evolved in a discussion on Ward’s fan message board). But this is another thing that IMO causes some suspension-of-disbelief issues around his involvement with Cormia. Isn’t there some kind of 12-step rule against that?

As for my take on Phury’s character, on the surface he’s this noble, self-sacrificing martyr… and eww. Who likes a martyr? Something that became really clear to me during a pivotal scene between Phury and his twin is that all the worrying, all the caretaking that we’ve seen Phury doing (mostly in Z’s book)… is not about what Zsadist needs, it’s about what Phury needs. And it’s not really working for either of them. The celibacy thing never made any sense to me at all.

O’D: despite their incredibly annoying dialogue (about which I could write a full post, but let me sum up by saying that only tween girls think its cool to have an inside language that uses the –y or –ie suffix on words like “next,” “out,” “fresh” and so on. “Give me a freshie”? Give me a gun.)

Nicola: Believe it or not, I have actually heard a grown-up, hipster-ish male person say, “I’m outtie.” Which pretty much makes me think of belly-buttons, but I’m willing to live with the assumption that what sounds weird to me is actually current slang.

O’Donovan: I will grant that there may be grown-up, hipster-ish males who would say that, but so would Cher in Clueless, and I find it unsexy. But my feelings about slang aside, there is good news. Growing pains happen when you’re going through a transition, and this book is very, very obviously a transitional book.

Ms. Ward seemed to think we were running out of potential lead characters (although, off the top of my head, I count at least three heroes (Rehv, John Matthew, Manny) and four heroines (the Chosen Layla, Vishous’s sister, Jane’s long-lost sister whom I believe we will be seeing again, and Zsadist-and-Bella’s Nalla) that were waiting in the wings before this book even began … and that’s if you didn’t expect Tohr to eventually come back and (one hopes?) get over Wellsie’s death and end up in some relationship.

Nicola: I don’t see Jane’s sister coming into play, personally, though I could be wrong. Also, neener neener neener, I know who the Rehv ends up with, and it’s none of the above. If you want to know, you can hit Ward’s official website message boards, or email me.

Word is that Qhinn will have his own book, and Blay and Lassiter are possibilities. Depending on what the voices in JR Ward’s head tell her to do.

O’Donovan: Brace yourselves, Bridgets: by the end of Lover Enshrined, we have about 50 random Chosen roaming about, looking to reproduce.

Nicola: What’s a bridget?

O'D: It’s the punchline of this joke about my people: What’s Irish foreplay?

Nicola: Uh huh. So. Between Phury’s ascension to the Primale role and some interesting and very specific attacks by the lessers’ new secret weapon, the social structure of the Chosen, the Brothers, the glymera, and the civilians-- not to mention the symphaths, Moors (what exactly are they??) and their various half-breed permutations—is crumbling. Which, given what we’ve seen of the glymera and the Chosen, makes perfect sense to me, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

O’D: Me, too. And I would be unfair if I pretend there weren’t a few things I loved.

I loved the interplay and development of John Matthew, Qhinn and Blay into a little brotherhood of their own, with some fascinating quirks. I loved finding out more (and, frankly, some really dark and interesting and gross stuff) about the symphaths(Nicola: OMG! SO FREAKY!) and Rehv, in particular. Xhex has a really intriguing sexual presence in this book.

Even the stuff that’s going on with the necessary-but-occasionally-yawntastic lesser is pretty interesting in this book, although that might have been in comparison to the love story, and it wasn’t as great as the stuff in Lover Revealed or Lover Unbound.

Nicola: I always tend to skim over the lessers’ point of view – this was the first book where a lesser character pulled me in at all.

My list of “what I loved” is essential the same as O’Donovan’s – the only thing that I didn’t really like was the romance element. Not that it wasn’t there, but I don’t think it was especially well-done.

But let’s get to the point.

Should you read this book?

ODonovan: (Or, if you’re me, should JR Ward have written it?)

I think this book is a lot like puberty. You have to get through it. It’s awkward and embarrassing and none of the romance works right because it, too, is awkward and embarrassing. But you hang in there for the stuff on the other side, which promises to be complicated and sophisticated and sexy as all hell and — this part’s for sure — full of fascinating men.

Nicola: As for me, I am still a die-hard Ward fan and will likely do the same irresponsible all-nighter with the Compendium this fall and Lover Avenged next May. This book really whetted my appetite for the future of the Black Dagger Brotherhood universe… but Phury is still my least favorite Brother.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Meljean Brook – “Demon” (or Guardian) Series

Here’s what I have to say about book one (Demon Angel): eight hundred years of foreplay.

Eight. Hundred. Years.

Get out the ice buckets, readers.

The way Brook sets up this first book particularly appeals to me because 1) I like longer books and 2) I like character-driven stories. The way these two main characters develop over the centuries is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s complicated – as you might expect an affair between a guardian angel and a millennia-old demon to be – and (I think I say this without spoilering anything) Hugh’s fall from angel to human was as thrilling as Lilith’s redemption from evil. God, I love Hugh’s dark side.

A unique premise is golden in the ever-more-crowded world of paranormal romances, and I looooove the premise for these books. Brook builds a world that effortlessly blends biblical mythology, Good vs. Evil, urban fantasy, and erotic romantic story arcs.

Entertainingly, this format allows Brook to cover all the bases in terms of archetypical heroes – knight in shining armour? Hugh. Gorgeous GQ model type? Colin. Got a little thang for cowboys? Meet Ethan. Next up this fall is wisecracking Vietnam vet and Fledgling Guardian Jake. Very hip.

O'Donovan adds: I agree about the archetypes, although the latter two - Colin and Ethan- were imperfectly rendered. What we get in the human/supernatural romances is a snapshot - nearly a caricature - of the archetypes after however many years of modern life.

Nicola responds: True. But they still have that flavor.

Nicola continues: The heroines of this series stack up nicely, too. I mean, how often do you come across a heroine who is a consummate liar, with red scaly skin, black horns, and razor-sharp nipples, who's sold her soul to the devil? Not every day, that's for sure. To watch Hugh unhesitantly love Lilith in all her darkness and light, is to feel at least a *little* reassured that the average reader's soft underbelly might survive exposure.

Her follow-up heroines, human women who are turned to vampires in Demon Moon and Demon Night, are completely different -- one a brainy hacker video-game creator/player, the other a shell-shocked ex-con just getting back on her feet. I like that Brook doesn't try to pack every virtue and every virtue-disguised-as-flaw into every main character. Lots more room for individuality.

O'Donovan adds: I think the Hugh/Lilith romance is more perfectly rendered because we see them across the swath of history. Eight hundred year of foreplay really, uh, worked for me.

Nicola continues: Brook constructs unusual, layered characters whose strengths and weaknesses compliment each other perfectly – but only after they solve a rubik’s cube of discovery — of themselves, of each other, of their relationship, and coming to terms with the loss (or recovery) of their humanity.

There's no lack for wit or humor, either. A favorite snip:

bearing in mind that Lillith is particularly talented at lying, and Hugh is particularly talented at discerning truth:

"Making a bargain with Lucifer is completely different than working covertly for the government," Lilith said.

Silence fell for a moment, then Hugh lowered his face into his hands and his shoulders began shaking. Unable to contain her own laughter, Savi sat down and bent forward, holding her sides.

"Lilith," he said finally, wiping his eyes. "That's a lie."

Now, I have to say that these books aren’t perfect… I’m rarely one to complain about a long book, but I did feel like there were places that any one of these three sagged a little. As a nitpick, her fight/action scenes could be a little more clearly rendered—the romance genre has always been a little more forgiving of this sort of fuzziness, but with all the urban fantasy out there right now, I think the bar for a tight action scene is floating up higher.

After finishing the third book, it’s clear to me that Brook has a very definite vision of how the various categories of non-human beings interlock together (“follow the blood”) but there were times when she sort of lost me. I also have to wonder why she needs vampires in the mix – seems like demons (including the devil himself), angels, humans, & halflings ought to be adequate for any series, and with the biblical roots, the vampires seem like sort of a mis-fit. I’m not really up on my Old Testament, but there weren’t any vampires in there, were there?

O'Donovan adds: The only other flaw that struck me was a weird teasing about some characters' back stories. In a book where Colin is the hero, one expects to learn his story. Instead, we get bits and pieces strewn across three books. If we don't get the skinny soon, I may start to lose patience.

Nicola responds: Totally agree. I think though, that Colin's story is complete -- what we were supposed to glean from the bits of his letters in book 2 is that his non-reflective curse was self-inflicted and irreversible. I don't think we're going to see much more. The one that bugged me was about Charlie's scarring. She starts off telling a tall tale about it, but we don't know her well enough to know it's a tall tale. Its cause is alluded to but I thought it was too ambiguous.

Nicola continues: Generally though, these are thoroughly readable books with a lot of what I want in a romance of any subgenre.

O'Donovan adds: I wholeheartedly appreciate a new concept in paranormals, especially one that's executed with nuance and a fearless approach to complicated plotting.

We agree: well worth the read, and will be purchasing Demon Bound when it comes out later this year.

postscript from Nicola: I’d like to give credit to someone in particular for recommending this series to me, but I think I just sort of picked up the name by osmosis, after reading it on various favorites lists in the blogosphere. I clicked over to Brook’s website and read an excerpt from Demon Night and there was just no going back from there.

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